It’s NBA 2K Week here at Oregon Sports News. Throughout the week, OSN will publish articles simulating a different scenario we’ve dreamed up in the absence of IRL sports.
Today, OSN’s Bryant Knox does what should’ve been done long ago: He brings the NBA back to Seattle. The question is, how long will it take the Supersonics to go from exciting expansion to league champions?
The Objective: Bring Seattle an NBA championship as quickly as possible.
The Catch: Everything after manual expansion draft belongs to the simulator.
2019-20 Season Wrap-Up
Because you can’t create an expansion team in the middle of a season, we told the coronavirus to take a serious chill pill, and in our XBox simulation, that was good enough. The NBA resumed right where it left off, and we were one step closer to getting the Sonics back where they belong.
The 2019-20 season ended with a Giannis Antetokounmpo MVP, a Zion Williamson playoff appearance and maybe the most surprising championship series of all time. Kyle Lowry and Co. took their aggressions toward L.A. out on another Los Angeles franchise that was healthy, star-driven and utterly outclassed in a 4-1 debacle of a series.
I kind of wish I’d watched these games play out myself. Is that because I have that much hatred in my heart for the Lakers or is that the social distancing talking?
Just like everyone expected, Anthony Davis re-signed in L.A. and the rest of the summer was a snoozer.
The NBA accepted our request to expand in Seattle—but it will take an entire season for the league to process the paperwork or consider the logistics or, whatever, it’s a video game, we’ll hit a button and be there in no time.
2020-21 Season Notables
- For Portland locals and anyone tied to the renewed I-5 Rivalry, Damian Lillard finished third in MVP voting behind Anthony Davis and LeBron James. So much for teammates stealing votes from one another.
- Also for the locals, the Trail Blazers traded for Alex Caruso. If any scenario will ever test how a player’s hype changes from one market to the next, sending a bald white dude in a headband from the Lakers to the Pacific Northwest will be it.
- Dwight Howard, who signed with the Detroit Pistons over the 2020 offseason, was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. Milwaukee is his ninth team overall (if you include the Lakers twice, which you should) and his sixth in five years since leaving Houston.
- The Minnesota Timberwolves, unbelievably, are your champs. Wolves’ LaMelo Ball, at 49.9 percent field-goal shooting, was that close to joining the 50-40-90 club as a rookie (42.6 3PT%, 91.4 FT%). As league ROY, he also completely unlocked Karl-Anthony Towns. KAT earned Finals MVP averaging 34.8 points, 15.5 rebounds and five assists against the Lakers.
NBA Is Back In Seattle
At one point in the 2020-21 regular season, the league tried to sneak in another expansion team without me noticing—the Nashville Stars. This wasn’t happening on my watch, so I squashed these plans before they could come to fruition. But once we hit the offseason, the league struck back and voted against a single-team expansion, denying Seattle its basketball.
Unfortunately for the league, I don’t care how much they enjoy conferences with the same number of teams. So after a quick overruling and a subsequent realignment, we were set.
(Side note: I couldn’t decide between a mid-90s or mid-2000s Sonics aesthetic, so I just didn’t choose either. Modern Sonics can still offer nostalgia, I swear.)
The Denver Nuggets are idiots.
Sorry to be blunt, Denver. In this simulation, you chose not to protect Michael Porter, Jr. after a couple of slow seasons despite his 82 overall rating and promising career ahead, and that was the opposite of smart. A quick look at Porter’s player profile reveals he’s disgruntled and intends to move on from Denver the moment he’s able. But here’s the thing: He’s 23 years old and still on his rookie contract.
Alas, here we are. And MPJ is in Seattle.
After that, the strategy was simple: Build young, add a splash of mentorship (a real factor in 2K) and make sure the books are largely clear for next year’s free agency. We also snagged Dwight Howard because at this point why deny the ultimate journeyman a chance to add another notch on the belt?
The Supersonics drafted Evan Mobley with the No. 5 overall pick—a default spot they were given as a new franchise. Mobley is a 7-foot, 205-pound center who as of today (March 30, 2020) sits at No. 2 in ESPN’s Top 100 high-school recruits and will be attending USC.
And so it begins. Here’s a quick look at the Sonics’ opening-night roster and starting lineup:
(Not pictured: Tyus Jones (PG), Jake Layman (SF)
Things got off to a good start in Seattle. Nothing has ever been decided 15 games into a season, let alone a franchise, but at that point in the campaign, the Supersonics were 9-6, seventh in the Western Conference and were getting 23.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game from franchise cornerstone MPJ.
Then reality set in.
The team quickly found itself 15-21. At that point, eager to win a title sooner rather than later, the Sonics flashed a very shiny draft pick, called off the I-5 rivalry and convinced Neil Olshey to break up his vaunted backcourt.
Potentially giving away a lottery pick during your first season as an NBA franchise shows one of two things: a complete misunderstanding of how competitive your team actually is, or unbelievable faith that McCollum can be a No. 1 option.
No risk, no reward, I suppose.
Dwight Howard also adds another team to the list, so that’s an inherent plus to the deal.
Unfortunately for the Sonics, McCollum wasn’t the catalyst to a postseason run they thought he’d be.
CJ showed off plenty 1A ability, averaging nearly 25 points after the deal and shooting over 43 percent from deep. But the team never poked its head back above the .500 waters, and that ultimately led to a 38-44 record with an 11th place finish out West.
Porter’s injury history also caught up to him once again, as he tore his right calf muscle and missed the final month of the season with a total recovery time of 12 weeks.
Seattle always expected to be back in the lottery for 2022, but it’s also fair to wonder at this point if Denver knew what it was doing all along getting out early from an eventual Porter max deal that will be lucrative at best, franchise-crippling at worst.
LeBron James is your MVP, averaging 26.1 points and 11.1 assists per game, but Ja Morant’s Memphis Grizzlies earn the No. 1 overall seed in the Western Conference.
The youth movement across the league is clear, as the Trae Young-led Atlanta Hawks land the East’s No. 1 but ultimately fall in the Finals to the 4 seed Phoenix Suns.
Phoenix’s biggest signing over the previous summer was Carmleo Anthony. So good luck figuring that one out.
NBA Draft Lottery + Draft
Without a first-round selection in this year’s draft—a crucial mistake stemming from the first big trade in the franchise’s new history—players like Zaire Wade and Jonathan Kuminga end up with the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls, respectively.
Seattle takes a 23-year-old point guard and signs him to a two-way contract.
(Literally) Nothing to see here.
New is always better. A great man said this once. Scratch that. An awesome man.
New is always better.
This has to be the only explanation for what happened next.
Trae Young, who weeks prior was playing in the NBA Finals for the No. 1 seed Hawks, has joined the Supersonics. There’s a lot to digest here—like why Atlanta chose not to match Seattle’s offer—but Trae Young, in his first free agency deal, chose to leave a Finals runner-up in favor of a non-playoff team.
This was exactly why we drafted at the beginning of the expansion to accommodate for the 2022 free-agent class, and it’s why we built a roster with an appealing collective career arc.
It’s also why it became pretty clear pretty quick that Michael Porter Jr. was not part of the future.
In comes Trae Young, out goes MPJ.
New is always better, and in this case, better than anyone could have expected.
Whether MPJ made the decision to leave or Seattle got spooked by another injury, the Sonics needed Trae to step in and be the face of the franchise immediately. Leaning on their young center would help, as he posted 9.9 points, eight rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.8 blocks and a bonkers 41.9 three-point percentage in his rookie year, but this season was going to be all about seeing what the kid with the Stephen Curry comparisons could do next to a seasoned guard in McCollum.
Although the growing pains were obvious early with an 0-4 start, young Trae took it upon himself to turn things around. In Game 5 of the season, the now-24-year-old hit 13 three-pointers en route to 53 points and a disgusting 148-111 takedown of the Lakers.
After that, the team never looked back.
By the time the year had come to a close, Luka Doncic had won his first MVP award, scoring 34.5 points per game to go along with 10.5 rebounds and 9.1 assists. He led his team to a 56-26 record and a No. 2 overall seed—just one seed higher than Trae’s 53-29 Supersonics.
Fastforwarding to Round 2 of the postseason, the NBA got what it had been salivating over since Trae signed his four-year, $123.36 million deal in the Western Conference. It got a playoff series between the two stars forever connected by a draft-day trade in 2018.
With CJ back for the conference semifinals after an ankle injury forced him to miss Round 1, Seattle stole two games on the road to take a 2-0 series lead. But Luka wasn’t having it, and the Mavs took two right back at Amazon Arena.
After two more games, each giving away road victories, it was down to Game 7. And as it would turn out, Game 7 would be…not even close.
McCollum took over and had 35 points and eight three-pointers to give the Supersonics a 115-95 win and a ticket to the Western Conference Finals—all despite Doncic averaging a cool 33 points and a triple-double per game in the series.
At this point, Seattle had a favorable matchup against the 5-seed San Antonio Spurs except for one major detail: The Spurs had somehow swindled Giannis into thinking they were real contenders in 2021 free agency and they now had the two-time MVP leading the charge. But as it turned out, Giannis and DeMar DeRozan weren’t exactly a duo worth sweating over. Seattle took the series 4-2.
And so here we are, Year 2, Seattle in the NBA Finals against…the Cleveland Cavaliers.
What in Pike’s Place is happening to the NBA in this simulation?
The Cavaliers, who earned the No. 3 seed, just took down the Eastern Conference Pelicans and are led by exactly the players leading them today.
I double and triple checked. The Cavs, led by an admittedly much-improved Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr., were still holding strong in Cleveland alongside Andre Drummond, Cedi Osman (a player I considered for an embarrassingly long time during the initial expansion draft) and newly added Michael Beasley.
Not to speak ill of the dead, but Cleveland was six feet under before this series even began.
Where Are They Now?
In what can only be called the greatest comeback in modern sports history, the Sonics, 15 seasons after they were ripped away from Seattle, brought the Larry O’Brien Trophy back where it belonged.
Fifteen long seasons, and just two years into their new existence.
Following the 2023 NBA Finals, head coach Milan Mack earned himself a new four-year deal to stay in Seattle. He’s a C+ coach across the board who coasted on Trae Young’s coattails and Gregg Popovich was available. But whatever, he earned it.
Shooting guard Norman Powell also earned himself a four-year, $62.94 million deal after being a surprisingly effective cog in an otherwise ultra-talented backcourt. If he doesn’t get the playing time he desires he plans to retire and teach an air guitar masterclass.
Trae Young won Finals MVP averaging 28.8 points per game (63.1 FG%, 50.0 3PT%) while collecting 5.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds along the way. His friend enjoyed the first adult beverage of his life thanks to Ice Trae’s performance.
Above all else, remember, it only took two years to go from exciting expansion to league champions.
The Nashville Stars would’ve never.